Fighting begins in Virginia

Well, all right, continues. Alexandria, VA, was captured on 24 April as part of the US’s effort to establish a safe zone around Washington, DC. There wasn’t much of a fight but there were two casualties.

At any rate, today the fighting at Sewell’s Point, Virginia began. Sewell’s Point guards the mouth of the harbor at Hampton Roads and more importantly, it offered a vantage from which artillery could be fired at US-occupied Fort Monroe. Naturally the Confederates began setting up guns there, and equally naturally the occupants of the fort sent a war-ship and an armed tug over to see what the hell was going on. The captain of the USS Monticello, the warship, took exception to the construction of breastworks and artillery emplacements and opened fire. The Confederates, after a startled pause, opened fire right back. There were no casualties during the two-day battle, and eventually Monticello limped back to Fort Monroe with several holes in her sides, the tug trailing behind.

Published in: on 18 May, 2011 at 11:24  Leave a Comment  
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The balance tips in the Old Dominion

Today, the secession convention in Richmond, Virginia, approved the secession ordinance they had begun to consider yesterday.

The convention had been in session, and deadlocked, for a little over two months. What finally tipped it toward secession was Lincoln’s April 15 declaration of a state of insurrection, which called for 75,000 soldiers. Virginia would be required to supply a little over 2300 of this number, and that was enough to let the pro-secession faction at the convention push things to a resolution. The white men of Virginia would not take up arms against their fellow slave-holders.

With Virginia’s secession, Robert E. Lee’s path was made clear to him. He began drafting a letter.

Published in: on 17 April, 2011 at 12:00  Leave a Comment  
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The powers granted them…might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression

April 16, 1861, the Secession Convention Delegates in Richmond, Virginia, met in secrecy to consider a very brief document. It read, in its entirety:


To Repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution:

The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.

Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain that the Ordinance adopted by the people of this State in Convention, on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying or adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong to a free and independent State. And they do further declare that the said Constitution of the United State of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.

This Ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day when ratified by a majority of the votes of the people of this State, cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.

Done in Convention, in the city of Richmond, on the seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Sec’y of Convention.

The “injury and oppression” here is of course the fear of emancipation. The white slaveowners who met in Richmond were not concerned with the injury and oppression they had inflicted and were inflicting upon enslaved people for two hundred years. The secession ordinances of the southern states all cited fears of emancipation, despite Lincoln’s declaration in his inaugural address:

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Published in: on 16 April, 2011 at 12:00  Leave a Comment  
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April 15, 1861

Today, President Lincoln proclaimed a state of insurrection. There is certainly an argument to be made that he had waited a Christless long time to admit the obvious, but he was playing a fairly delicate game with international opinion. He did not need foreign powers deciding to recognize the Confederacy, he needed them to stay out of affairs. So he waited until after Fort Sumter fell, until after the Confederate States had fired the first shots of the war, and issued a proclamation.


Whereas the laws of the United States have been for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law,

Now therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. The details, for this object, will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department.

I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government; and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.

I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth will probably be to re-possess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union; and in every event, the utmost care will be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.

And I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid to disperse, and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within twenty days from this date.

Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both Houses of Congress. Senators and Representatives are therefore summoned to assemble at their respective chambers, at 12 o’clock, noon, on Thursday, the fourth day of July, next, then and there to consider and determine, such measures, as, in their wisdom, the public safety, and interest may seem to demand.

In Witness Whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this fifteenth day of April in the year of our Lord One thousand, Eight hundred and Sixtyone, and of the Independence the United States the Eightyfifth.


Lincoln did one other thing that day. He offered command of the US Army to a career army officer named Robert Edward Lee. Lee turned down the offer, waiting to see what his home state of Virginia would do. Since the first guns fired on Fort Sumter, calls for secession had been growing louder. Indeed, a secession convention had been meeting since the 13th of February. Lee felt that his first duty was to Virginia, not the Union, and so he waited to see what would happen.

Published in: on 15 April, 2011 at 19:10  Leave a Comment  
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